The Coupe des Mousquetaires and the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, trophies awarded to the men’s and women’s French Open champions, were on display, guarded by security, near the Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday morning. It was no surprise that they gathered quite a crowd.
Two weeks from Saturday (les femmes) and from Sunday (les hommes) they will be held aloft by a woman and a man celebrating victory in arguably the toughest tennis tournament in the world.
The pathway to success in the 2023 Les Internationaux de France was outlined at the draw ceremony held in the L’Orangerie pavilion on the Roland-Garros site Thursday afternoon.
From the Canadian perspective it didn’t take long for the surprises to emerge. The initial computer rollout of the unseeded player revealed that both Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez would be playing seeded players. It didn’t take long, as the seeds were drawn from the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen by French National Rugby team captain Antoine Dupont, to discover that there would be a jaw-dropper first round between Andreescu and 18th seeded Victoria Azarenka.
A few moments later the token belonging to No. 21 seed Magda Linette of Poland was picked out to play Fernandez.
This was always going to be a possibility because neither the No. 41-ranked Andreescu (above on Thursday with coach Christophe Lambert in the background) or No. 51 Fernandez had the protection afforded by being one of the 32 seeds.
It will be a first meeting between two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka (2012-13) and 2019 US Open winner Andreescu. Roland-Garros has historically been the weakest of Azarenka’s Grand Slam events – she has only once gone past the third round (round of 16 in 2021) since she reached the semi-finals 10 years ago in 2013. So far in 2023 she has a modest 13-9 record and is just 2-2 on clay in Charleston, Madrid and Rome, where she pulled out of her second match against Madison Keys with a right leg injury.
Andreescu, who suffered two tears in her left ankle in Miami in March, has only played two matches on clay – losing 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 to No. 65 Wang Xiyu in Madrid and then 6-0, 6-1 to 2019 Roland-Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova in Rome.
But everyone knows Andreescu’s pedigree and she looked sharp in an up-tempo practice session with a hitting partner on Court 3 at Roland-Garros on Thursday.
The draw – above top-seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek made an appearance after the men’s draw was completed – could also have been kinder to Fernandez, who is 4-5 on clay in 2023. That includes a 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 loss to No. 69 Peyton Stearns of the U.S. in the second round of the WTA 250 tournament in Rabat, Morocco, this week.
She has a 1-1 record against the 31-year-old Linette, a surprise semi-finalist at the Australian Open in January – Fernandez winning in Charleston in 2022 and Linette prevailing in the opening round of Roland-Garros in 2020.
Like Fernandez, Linette, seeded No. 21, lost in the second round of her event this week, the WTA 250 in Strasbourg. She was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by No. 96-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Fernandez will be hoping to gain inspiration from her performance a year ago in Paris. Then she seemed destined to reach the semi-finals but lost a quarter-final to Martina Trevisan when she injured her right foot early in the match but carried on. It turned out later to be a stress fracture and kept her off the tour for almost two months.
Rebecca Marino, 32, is playing just her third Roland-Garros since 2011, the year she won her only two matches in the tournament. Now ranked No. 79, she faces 19-year-old Diana Shnaider. The left-handed Russian made quite a breakthrough at the 2023 Australian Open when she reached the second round as a qualifier. She had an overall record of 55-17 record in 2022 and is currently enrolled at North Carolina State University.
It will be a first meeting for Marino and Shnaider, who has a positive and outgoing personality.
Unlike Andreescu and Fernandez, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov were seeded and both appear to have reasonably favourable draws.
Auger-Aliassime (above his match-up is blown out during the draw ceremony) will play temperamental Italian Fabio Fognini. The 35-year-old, ranked No. 130, is a bit of a fading force these days. But he beat No. 42 Andy Murray and No. 37 Miomir Kecmanovic in Rome recently before losing 6-4, 6-2 to No. 7 Holger Rune.
Auger-Aliassime is 1-0 versus Fognini – a win in Rio de Janeiro in 2019 – but everything is up in the air now that he pulled out of a quarter-final match at the ATP 250 event in Lyon against Arthur Fils on Thursday with a shoulder issue.
Auger-Aliassime will have good memories of the 2022 French Open – reaching the round-of-16 before losing in five sets to eventual champion Rafael Nadal.
If he’s able to play, this would be Auger-Aliassime’s fourth Roland-Garros and he would enter it with an overall 3-3 record.
Shapovalov – seen above practising on Thursday on Court No. 16 at the extreme end of the Roland-Garros grounds – enters Roland-Garros ranked No. 31 but as the No. 26 seed. He has only played three matches on clay this spring – beating No. 155-ranked qualifier Jozef Kovalik in Barcelona before losing 6-3, 6-2 to No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and then exiting Madrid 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(1) in a match against No. 99 Zhang Zhizhen.
He will renew acquaintances with Brandon Nakashima in the first round at Roland-Garros. The 21-year-old American won their only previous meeting 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6) in the second round at Wimbledon last year.
Shapovalov entered 2023 ranked No. 18 and is probably fortunate to have only dropped to No. 31 with his lacklustre 7-9 record so far this season.
Mirra Andreeva is the new “it girl” on the WTA Tour. The 16-year-old (April 29, 2007) Russian has compiled a 19-2 record for 2023, including winning two ITF events and reaching the round-of-16 at the WTA 1000 earlier this month in Madrid with wins over No. 49 Fernandez, No. 14 Beatriz Haddad Maia and No. 19 Linette.
On Thursday she made it to her first Grand Slam main draw, attracting a full house crowd to Court 7 for her 7-6(8), 6-4 victory over the top seed in the qualifying, No. 84-ranked Camila Osorio of Colombia.
Although prone to moments of frustration, the tall Andreeva has a regal presence on court and the look of a future superstar.
The watering of the Roland-Garros courts, as the gentlemen in the picture above demonstrate, is something of an art form.
It often seems like the Roland-Garros ballkids are in a perpetual state of motion. Whether it’s outside their assigned courts getting warmed up – or running on and off during the matches, they are an active, athletic bunch.